When you file for bankruptcy, you must fill out a large packet of forms and provide information about your income, property, debts, and financial transactions. On one of those forms, Schedule E/F: Creditors Who Have Unsecured Claims, you must list all of your creditors that have unsecured claims against you. An unsecured claim is a debt that is not secured by property (debts secured by property include your mortgage or car loan). Priority unsecured debts—such as unpaid taxes and family support arrearages—get special treatment and are paid before nonpriority unsecured debts—such as credit card debt and medical bills.
For more information on how to complete other required bankruptcy forms, see our Completing the Bankruptcy Forms topic area.
In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, most of your nonpriority unsecured debts are wiped out, or "discharged," although there are exceptions. You're allowed to keep enough property to live and work, called "exempt" property. But you must give up nonexempt property. The bankruptcy trustee sells this property and uses the proceeds to pay your creditors. (To learn how this works, see Bankruptcy Exemptions: What Do I Keep When I File for Bankruptcy?)
In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you make monthly payments for three- to five-years using your discretionary income, which is the money left over after paying for necessary monthly living expenses. The bankruptcy trustee pays your creditors in the order set by bankruptcy law. Once you successfully complete your plan, the balances of your dischargeable, nonpriority unsecured debts are wiped out.
You likely realize that if you don't pay your mortgage or your car payment, your creditor can foreclose on your home or repossess your car. When you bought the property, the creditor required you to "secure" repayment of the loan by agreeing to allow the creditor to sell your house or car—called "collateral"—if you fail to pay your bill. Although there are other ways to secure debts, it's always tied to property you must give up if you don't fulfill your payment obligation. (To learn more about this see Secured vs Unsecured Debt).
In contrast, unsecured debt is not secured by property. If you don't make your credit card payment, or you fail to pay a medical bill, your creditor can't take back the ski pants you bought, or reverse your medical treatment.
Priority claims are typically nondischargeable debts that receive priority treatment. This means that they don't go away in bankruptcy and that they get paid before your other obligations. The most common priority claims include alimony, child support, and certain tax obligations. But there are several other types of priority claims. To learn more about priority debts, see What Is a Priority Claim in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy?
Examples of nonpriority, unsecured debts include credit card debt, medical debt, personal loans, student loans, utility service arrearages, judgments from lawsuits, and the like. Most of your nonpriority, unsecured debts you list on Schedule E/F will be discharged at the end of your bankruptcy. Of course, some of those creditors might be paid in full or part during the bankruptcy if you have nonexempt property that the trustee sells in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, or if you make payments through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
However, there are some types of unsecured, nonpriority debt that are rarely or never discharged. Examples include:
On Schedule E/F, you'll list all of your debts that aren't secured by property. In other words, all debts that you didn't already list on Schedule D: Creditors Who Have Claims Secured by Property. You'll list your priority unsecured debts first, followed by your nonpriority, unsecured debts.
Schedule E/F contains detailed information regarding how you should complete the form. So if you read the instructions carefully, you should have no trouble filling it out. Below, we discuss some of the information that will be required and provide additional tips that may be helpful in completing the form.
Creditor information. Identify any creditors by listing their name and address where indicated.
Who incurred the debt? If anyone else is responsible for this debt along with you, you'll check the appropriate box (you don't have to list your spouse again if you filed a joint bankruptcy petition). You will list your codebtor's contact information on a different form called Schedule H: Your Codebtors.
Account number. You'll enter the last 4 digits of the account number.
When was the debt incurred? Here you'll disclose the date you incurred the obligation.
Contingent, unliquidated, or disputed. If your potential liability for a claim is based on some event that has not yet occurred, the claim is considered contingent. If the exact amount of the debt is not yet known, it's an unliquidated claim. If you don't believe that you owe the debt or it's incorrect in some way, it's a disputed claim. If you believe that any of your claims are contingent, unliquidated, or disputed, indicate that on the form by placing an X in the appropriate spot.
Types of priority claims. If you have any debts that match a specific priority claim category listed on Schedule E/F, check the box next to that type of claim.
Total claim. You'll list the entire amount of the debt.
Priority amount. If only part of the claim is entitled to priority, list the priority amount here. Make sure to review the dollar limits for certain priority claims to determine what portion of a claim is entitled to priority.
Nonpriority amount. If only a portion of the claim is entitled to priority, list the amount that is not entitled to priority here.
Type of nonpriority unsecured claim. Here you'll report whether the debt is a student loan, a family law-related obligation that you didn't report as a priority debt, or a debt to a pension or profit-sharing plan by checking the appropriate box.
This article provides general information only. There are many legal issues involved and important decisions to be made when filing for bankruptcy. You must understand the entire bankruptcy process, learn about the applicable federal and state laws, and determine how those laws will affect your particular situation before you complete the bankruptcy forms. In many cases, it's best to consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. If you want to file bankruptcy without a lawyer, use a good do-it-yourself book like Nolo's How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy to ensure you make well-informed decisions about your bankruptcy case.